This year marks the 100th Anniversary of World War 1. For this reason, we should take every step to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Those individuals made it possible for us to live the lives we are so accustomed too today. You might be thinking, “it’s just another Remembrance Day…nobody goes to them anymore because everyone who survived has passed on…they’ll just read that poem again, highlight some events on the news and play a stream of war movies on TV.” Here is a simple story to explain where that poem comes from and the importance to show your support.
A story of one soldier, who by his death, inspired the writing of the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Without it, we wouldn’t have the foundation of what the true meaning of Remembrance Day is, and why it is imperative we wear our Poppies and show our support for all still serving, retired veterans and those that have passed on before us. Not only remember World War 1 and World War 2 but also to reflect on the other wars and conflicts Canadians have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Events like the Korean war, the Afghanistan war and other conflicts that sometimes don’t jump out to the forefront of our minds.
It is thought that doctor John McCrae (30 November 1872 – 28 January 1918) began the draft for his famous poem “In Flanders Fields” on the evening of the 2 May 1915 in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres.
John McCrae was serving as a Major and a military doctor and was second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. The field guns of his brigade’s batteries were in position on the west bank of the Ypres-Yser canal, about two kilometers north of Ypres. The brigade had arrived there in the early hours of 23 April 1915.
It is believed that the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was the inspiration for McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields”. The exact details of when the first draft was written may never be known because there are various accounts by those who were with McCrae at that time.
Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was an officer in the 2nd Battery, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. He had become good friends with John McCrae. On the morning of Sunday 2 May Alexis left his dugout and was killed instantly by a direct hit from an 8 inch German shell. What body parts could be found were later gathered into sandbags and laid in an army blanket for burial that evening.
Alexis was 22 years old and a popular young officer. Before the outbreak of war, he had graduated from McGill University with a degree in Civil Engineering. He was the son of Elizabeth I. Helmer of 122, Gilmour Street, Ottawa, and the late Brigadier General R. A. Helmer.
Lieutenant Helmer was buried on 2 May. In the absence of the chaplain, Major John McCrae conducted a simple service at the graveside, reciting from memory some passages from the Church of England’s “Order of Burial of the Dead”. A wooden cross marked the burial place. The grave has since been lost. Lieutenant Alexis Helmer is now commemorated on Panel 10 of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres; he is one of the 54,896 soldiers who have no known grave in the battlefields of the Ypres Salient.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
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